The Price Of Progress


11 speed Shimano drivetrains are here.  2013 Dura Ace is 11 speed, which generally means that 2014 Ultegra will be 11 speed, and 2015 105 will follow.  The DA9000 group retails for around $2,600, or about $600 more than Ultegra Di2 (which is 10 speed).  Complete bike price points for bikes with Ultegra Di2 generally start at around $4,500 with a lot of the competition happening at around the $5,000 price point, and going up to around $6,500.  Based on that, I'd expect to see a lot of DA9000 equipped bikes at around the $6,000 mark (since generally everything gets bumped up a notch when you move up a group set level). SRAM has been spotted testing a 1x11 prototype for cx, but they may be tipping their hand to road with that.  No one knows. 

If my point isn't self-evident, the stuff is expensive.  A cassette is $350, versus $210 for a DA 10 speed cassette.  There's no cheaping out with an $80 105 cassette for your training wheels because there won't be an 11 speed 105 cassette for 2 years and it probably will cost a lot more than $80 when it appears. 

The benefit of 11 speed is, well, one more gear.  From all reviews that I've read, the DA9000 group works extremely well, but of course the thing I haven't heard is how wondrous it is to have that extra gear.  There were some pretty substantive critiques of the previous DA group (7900), all of which seemed to have been addressed in the 9000 group, but the lack of an 11th gear was not a critique that I ever heard about 7900.  Shades of "answers to questions that no one was asking."

The big immediate relevance of 11 speed to most of us that it requires a different hub.  You need a wider cassette body to fit the 11 speed cassette onto, which changes the way the whole hub is laid out.  Of the hubs that we work with, White Industries has changed over completely, Chris King is about to release their 11 speed hub, and Novatec is also about to release their 11 speed hub.  Previous 10 speed White Industries hubs will not be convertible to 11 speed, while Chris King R45 hubs will be convertible with minor surgery and a re-dish of the wheel, and we're not sure about Novatec convertibility but signs point to "no."

The rub is that 11 speed hub geometry exacerbates the problem of the drive side to non-drive side tension imbalance.  This is kind of a big deal.  There's going to be A LOT of sugar coating about this, and how we've played this trick or planted this magic bean, but physics and geometry don't lie.  It will be possible to build very good 11 speed wheels, I have done so myself many times now, but every 11 speed wheel I've built so far would have been better had it been a 10 speed wheel.  

We are now building FSWs with Velocity's A23 OC rear rim.  The spoke holes in the OC are offset 4mm to the non-drive side in these rims, and this has a profound corrective effect on the side to side spoke tension imbalance.  It allows us to build 11 speed hubs with equivalent tension ratios as we could with 10 speed hubs on a centered rear rim, but it also allows us to build 10 speed hub wheels with far more even tension than we could before. 

The other thing that complicates this situation is disc brakes.  The current hub geometry and cassette body design came in coincidentally with the last frame dropout spacing change, from 126mm to 130mm, about 20 years ago.  When disc brakes come in, rear spacing is going to 135.  Bank on it.  Of course, when that happens, your current hubs, whether 10 or 11 speed, won't be disc ready.  That situation is really murky and no one can be sure of how and when what's going to happen will happen, but I'm positive that disc brakes will happen before too long, and that they will be 135mm spaced. 

I always sort of wonder when the bike riding and bike buying public is just going to throw up its collective hands and say "enough," but then I'm usually surprised at how eagerly the latest and greatest is adopted.  Your own plans for going to 11 speed will be your best guide on how to go.  Whichever way you go, the hubs are either here or just around the corner to support it.  We have plenty of 10 speed standard hubs, we'll have 11 speed standards late winter/early spring, we've got 11 speed White Industries, and Kings are a couple of weeks away at most. 



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  • Mario on

    So what's your take on the 2:1 spoke ratio… Half the amount of spokes on the non drive side… they said it creates better tension… this move makes the number of spokes into odd quantities… Current da9000wheels have 21 rear wheel spokes- I think AM classic has it too and campy….can't seem to put a finger on their science….

  • Micah on

    Do you have any 8 speed hubs in stock? Product releases like this turn me into a terrible retro-grouch, and the only way to deal with it is to buy c. 1980s technology for a few weeks. How about it? 8 speed hubs and mustache bars? Maybe a banana seat for good measure?

  • David R on

    A good option for those who want to upgrade to new shifters and other components without going to 11 speed is to use an adaptor pulley at the rear derailleur which increases cable pull of an 11-speed shifter enough to shift a 10-speed cogset's spacing distance. J-tek pulleys come in a variety of conversions, such as Campy to Shimano, 9 to 10, 10 to 11, etc. That way you can upgrade to the nicer new parts without having to get new hubs and cassettes for now, then in the future when it gets affordable enough you can take off the pulley and use your old new shifters with an 11 drivetrain. Another option is to go with a Campagnolo group, because Ergopower shifters can be dissassembled and a different index ratchet put in: you can get a Chorus or Record 11 speed group for the latest and lightest, then exchange the ratchet to a 10 speed. This sort of rebuildability and reconfigurability is one among several lifetime ownership advantages that Campy has.

  • Rico on

    Just when you think 'this cog-madness must now end'…it does no such thing. If 11 will be the new standard, perhaps 135 OLD should be, as well. When the industry went to 8 spd in the 1980's, hub spacing grew from 126 to 130…I recall that Shimano used rounded hub lock nuts, so to ease the spreading of steel rear triangles to the longer 130 dimension, but that's no-go for CF frames. I noted the the new T11 White hub is CTF spaced 38/16…yikes, at that rate, the drive side will be ~ 150 kpf, and the non-drive will end up at, what, ~ 70 or so? Time for all rear rims to have off-set drilling….

  • Dave Kirkpatrick on

    Micah – 10's the same as 8, so yeah we have plenty. But I do struggle with the same response as you do.Mario – It's effective but limiting. You are very limited in hubs, rims and drillings that you can use (drillings must be multiples of three. Most good rims are drilled directionally, and 2:1 lacing screws that up. Generally the spokes are grouped on the rim which leads to areas of stress concentration and then lengths of unsupported span, and I don't like that – rims have to be heavier to deal with that. And anyone who's ever had to replace spokes or a rim on a Campagnolo 2:1 wheel can probably tell you about the hassle and expense of doing such. So I don't really like it. Rob – First thanks for the offer we'll definitely take you up on it, and more snow now too. Second every person who's tried 9000 has has fairly glowing praise. All of the top end mechanical groups work so well now, it's kind of crazy. Carbon rims and King hubs also have plenty of margin as a combo – I'm not worried about how they'll come together.

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